I believe that running is the best form of therapy I’ve tried. I’ve been running since 1994, a far shorter period of time compared to all the years I’ve sat and talked with psychologists. Quite frankly, running is what keeps me sane. Upstate New York gave birth to my running habit, with its country trails, scenic routes, and winding farmland. A run in this setting can serve as a muse and as a comfort — a time when I can clear my head, ease my woes, and even have some of my most creative moments.
I’ve also come to realize that running can have an important purpose outside of my own personal need to be healthy. I don’t do races anymore, but when I did, it always helped to have the effort stand for something. I need to have a focus or mantra out on the course. Racing by inspiration began for me in 2000, when I signed up for my first (and only) triathlon. I asked a friend (and former running partner) if I might race in memory of her young son who had become ill and died within a matter of days. I couldn’t even imagine her pain and wasn’t really sure if my request was appropriate. When I came out of the lake, feeling dizzy from inexperience with having so many others splashing around me, I felt I couldn’t go on. Then I remembered Ian and the family he left behind; so, I rested for a few minutes and got on my bike. How could I not?
Then came September 11, 2001. Two weeks after the terrorist attacks, and a day before my birthday, I was part of a running relay around Lake Winnepesauke in New Hampshire. I was petrified of letting my team down. What if I couldn’t finish for some reason? What would they do if I messed up? My leg of roughly 9.5 miles began at the base of a hill that was about as vertical as I’d ever attempted. Then I kept thinking of the people who walked down so many stairs in the World Trade Center to save their lives, or, worse, those who didn’t make it out or who were on the three crashed planes. I knew I had nothing to complain about and that this was such a small challenge in comparison.
Then, only two days into 2002, my brother was diagnosed with cancer. It was an extremely hard winter to say the least, but somehow that spring and summer still heralded renewal. I set my sights on the San Francisco Half Marathon, running in honor of my brother. I trained perfectly, by the book. I even set a personal record for 10K about a month before flying to California. It was an unusually cloudless July morning for the Bay Area, and I ran the first mile way too fast (which was JB’s fault!) even though I had learned never to do that. I couldn’t remotely keep a steady pace for the entire 13 miles, and roundabout Haight-Ashbury my energy went downward while the day’s temperature went upward. As I dragged myself along the Embarcadero towards the finish, I envisioned Rick’s patient smile urging me onward and that made all the difference.
Time and again, running has offered me a chance to meditate while also serving as a salve for the inevitable wounds in life, a way for me to deal with tragedy and, all too often, heartbreak. I’m lucky to have learned to love this sport on those many Upstate mornings, snow, rain or shine. I always remind myself: I run because I can, and I believe running is the most patient counselor I’ll ever have.
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